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Penang was a bit of an anticlimax after Cameron Highlands. It was much more crowded and full of traffic. But the cool thing was running into the Tonks family at the busy local hawker centre. I was wandering around looking at what to order when I heard a voice exclaim, “This is our place! What are you doing here?” And there was Danielle! Many hugs ensued.

The following day we didn’t see any of the historical or touristy things in Penang. We hung out in one of the local malls, where the boys bought up big on clothes and electronics (Nick demonstrated how our family responds so well to retail therapy – he bought a laptop and his mood transformed from vaguely grouchy to ebullient in a flash).

There was an odd contrast between the other types of tourists at our hotel. You saw it mostly at breakfast. There were several tables at which sat a Saudi man, a handful of children, and three or four women clad in black from head to toe, with only their eyes showing. I saw one woman who even had a veil over her veil and black gloves on so you couldn’t see a single bit of her. How those women coped in the heat, I have no idea. On the other hand, there were busty, overweight, middle aged European women who came down to breakfast in nothing but their swimsuits and sarongs, and stayed that way all day. Each extreme was as confronting as the other.

While we were away, there were protests in Kuala Lumpur, with a huge group of people coming together to campaign for fairer elections. But we didn’t see a shred of unrest up in Penang. There wasn’t anything much on the news about it either, we heard about it from people who were there or from overseas news websites. Malaysia is a strange country, full of contrasts and extremes all lumped in together. Malay, Chinese, Indian history and traditions all swirl together, with a desire for change and yet so entrenched in its ways that change is slow, if at all.

And on top of it all are the tourists blundering and misunderstanding their (our?) way through it all.